Wednesday, September 5, 2007

(5 Sept 2007) September Already

It’s hard to believe it’s already September and ten days from now will mark six whole months in country for our group. We will also have lost six people from our group alone; hopefully we don’t continue the one-a-month average we seem to have going for ourselves.  People have left for a variety of reasons ranging from family issues at home to lack of direction with the PC Senegal program, but a new CD (Country Director) is on the way in and will hopefully make changes to help decrease the number of people frustrated with a variety of things in PC’s set-up and program.
A lot has happened in the last few months, but I’ll try to keep it concise. Before IST, my village managed to assemble for the first women’s group meeting.  Scheduled to start around 2pm , a group of ten men showed up at 3:30pm .  I expressed my sincerest appreciation for their interest, but informed them that a women’s group usually had women (not men) as members.  Erin appeared in my village on her bike around this time and within an hour a group of around thirty women had gathered at my granduncle’s house (the meeting location).  Though I imagine much of their attendance was due to Erin’s unexpected arrival, we were able to have a successful meeting and the women decided that now just isn’t the best time to start a big group garden.  Instead, they decided to continue to meet in my absence and start thinking of ideas.
When I returned back from IST last week I was elated to discover that not only had they been meeting every Saturday, but they had also begun to “cotiser” (French for “pooling money”) money at each meeting and were keeping a written record.  Additionally, they had elected a President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer.  Though the group is for women, my grand-uncle has been assisting by providing the best meeting space and helping to keep the record of money they are collecting.  His goal is to have all the women contribute 50cfa (20 US cents) for now, which most of the women have done.  At our meeting this past Saturday they expressed that they would like me to teach them to make “neem lotion” (homemade mosquito repellent made from oil, soap, water, and Neem tree leaves). The part that has me the most jazzed is their plan of using the money they’ve collected to purchase just enough supplies for me to show them first; then if they like it and think they will use it or can sell it they will use the collected money to buy supplies to make more.  I can’t express how proud I am that it was their idea for me to show them first, see how it goes, and then decide from there.  They’re also interested in learning other potential money-making projects, but there’s plenty of time for that. 
IST itself was exhausting, but enjoyable.  I scored high enough on the Wolof exam that I was able to take Pulaar du Nord for the language portion, although I found myself reverting to Wolof in class more than Pulaar (I think that’s a good sign for my Wolof at least).  Our tech sessions also ended up being more helpful than we were expecting, granted our expectations were pretty low. Guinea, which was evacuated in late February of this year and only just recently brought back a few volunteers, sent their Health APCD to assist with and basically run our entire tech training. Though we were nervous at first, the APCD did a phenomenal job and was flexible to our feedback/needs (something that did not happen at PST).  I was too busy/exhausted to spend much time with my Thies host family, but it was good to see them.  Overall it was really great to get to reunite with our stage and see how everyone has adjusted and grown.  The ice cream at Les Delice (a Thies restaurant we often frequented after class) wasn’t bad either.
Timing-wise, the week after IST ends the next stage on their way our has their COS (Close of Service) conference in Dakar, so by the end of IST a good portion of PCV’s in Senegal were in the Thies/Dakar region.  Also, it seems to be sort of a tradition for the stage a year ahead (who came in March 06) to throw the IST group a little party.  So after classes finished on Saturday a good number of us headed to Mbour (a beach town along the coast) for a Roaring 20’s-themed get together.  Hopefully the pictures are finished uploading by the time you get this.  The next afternoon a girl from Kedougou and I trekked our way back to the Tamba regional house (a hellish journey of 19 hours).  Normally it shouldn’t take that long to get back, but our itinerary wasn’t well thought out and we’ve learned a lesson for next time. 
Getting back to the village was surprisingly exciting.  Another big happy moment was me actually feeling excited to see my family when I ran into some of them on the side of the road at a stop before Koupentoum.  During IST I was a little nervous that I might not be that excited to get back to site, but it’s good to be back.  My new camera (which arrived in the mail while I was in Thies) somehow broke, so I don’t have any new pictures of the village, but it looks like a completely different place.  In fact I probably would have biked past it had I not seen a small child who called out to me.  I had to ask this poor kid if this was Keur Ndongo and to take me to my compound because the fields have grown so tall I couldn’t find my way.  As my village is set-up with compounds scattered around a bit the farmers use ALL of the space within and around the village to plant.  The result is rich green millet stalks that are taller than I am everywhere. The roads in and around the village are pretty awful and mushy (if not flooded), but thankfully the rain has cooled the temperatures a bit. 
In other news I think my sister Kodou (the one I’m named after) might be getting married.  Though before I left she expressed that she did not want to get married anytime soon and wanted to continue to go to school, now four weeks later she seems ecstatic at the idea of a husband.  I’m not exactly sure how the process of arranging a marriage here works, but there were men from a village between Koupentoum and Tamba coming by the compound every day after I got back to site.  I keep getting mixed answers about my sister’s age, but she’s somewhere between 12-15 years old, a normal age around here to get hitched.  I’ll try to keep you posted as things progress.
David Bowie is also alive and well.  I swear she doubled in size again by the time I got back from IST, but her fur has grown back and she looks like a happy healthy kitty.  She’s here with me now in Tamba to get vaccinated and spade, but it looks like the risk of infection is much higher with how humid it is now, so she won’t be spade until November or so.  And yes, I am using Bowie as an example for family planning.  I’m not advocating that people get sterilized, but that it’s important to think ahead before getting pregnant about what you can afford/handle and that there are a variety of options to plan out one’s family.  Also, talking about Bowie makes it a little easier to breach the subject of family planning.
Well, I think that’s about it for now.  Now that our secondary IST (for the health PCV’s organized by region) is over, I’m planning to head back to site tomorrow.  Sara’s birthday is on Sept 25 and we have a house meeting on Sept 23, so I’ll be back in town around then.  Fortunately (for my budget) or unfortunately (for my sanity) the cell phone reception in my area has basically disappeared.  The antennae by us broke down before we left (part of the reason Erin arrived unexpectedly during the women’s group meeting) and though it’s been fixed the reception is the worst it’s been since I’ve been at site. So, whether you’ve tried to reach me by phone or not, it looks like most of my future phone conversations will have to be in Koupentoum or Tamba.  I’ve also heard about some people who’ve bought calling cards but can’t get through on my cell phone; the Tamba house has a phone that we can receive phone calls on and the calling cards seem to work here.  So if you’ve bought one and would like to use it, e-mail me or my mom for the number and try me around Sept 20.
Exhausted, but enthused
PS- Yes Ramadan starts on Sept 13, but I have a decent stock of protein bars/jerky/instant meals in the village.  Wish me luck!
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